EMPLOYEE FAVORITES: Jeff Maudlin, Moonlight Buttress, Zion National Park
Here at Black Diamond, the inspiration to innovate is driven from within. When we're not at the office, our dedicated crew of employees is out cranking at the crags, putting in miles on the trails and questing around the mountains in search of untracked descents. In this ongoing series of posts on the Journal, we'll be highlighting some of our employee's favorite rock and ice climbs, ski descents and trail routes.
This month's favorite is something a little different from our Direct to Consumer Ops Manager Jeff Maudlin, who shares a tale from one of the desert's most classic routes, Moonlight Buttress.
[Route photos by Andy & Holly Merriman]
Code of Federal Regulations/Parks Forests, and Public Property
Title 36-Part 2, Section 2.14 Sanitation and Refuse
(a The following are prohibited:
(8) The disposal of human body waste, except at designated locations or in fixtures provided for that purpose
When you're as old as I am and done as many routes as I have, it's a little tough to pick just one favorite. Add in the reality that in my heyday our every move was not documented, Twittered, Facebook-ed, Tweeted, Go-Pro'd or blogged about. Sure, I have a few scratchy slides from the Nose and the Salathe, some washed out prints from trips to Smith, Yosemite, Indian Creek, Joshua Tree. Even some Super 8 from a trip to Devils Tower and Eldo. But nothing worth sharing with the world really. I then thought about some of the rubbed-elbow experiences I've had with some of the buffed and famous, climbers I've lucked into climbing a few routes with just by being in the right place at the right time (or wrong time for them perhaps). Like Alex Lowe and the Bachar-Yerian, bouldering with Peter Croft on the East Side, an afternoon with Conrad Anker in Little Cottonwood, Third Pillar with Alex Honnold. Yawn, name-dropper—who cares? As I explained my dilemma to my wife over dinner, she scolded, "you have to tell 'The Story'."
"The Story, you know, the one about that route in Zion and the poop tube."
It was September 1996, my 40th birthday. Three friends, Dan Markel, Mark Rusin and my longtime climbing partner, that well-known American climber, Bob Viola, had rounded me up for a trip to Zion and an attempt of Moonlight Buttress. We were all accomplished wall climbers with several epics between us. We were not wall-in-a-day types or extraordinary free climbers, we preferred to extend the suffering and misery by climbing as deliberate as possible. But we were competent, good at it even. Moonlight Buttress seemed like a enjoyable outing and something on the hit list for awhile. In the shade of Watchman's Campground we put together a rack that would have made Warren Harding proud. We were old school. We fixed pitches, carried way too much stuff, had a borrowed wall condo portaledge that we'd never set up before, and something new. Bob sheepishly pulled from his pack a thoughtful birthday gift he had lovingly designed and built just for this little adventure. A gleaming white poop tube built out of large diameter PVC pipe. It had a screw-top 'childproof' inscribed cap, a haul loop, came festooned with a BD logo, and a Sharpie inscribed 'Jeff Maudlin Signature Model' dedication much like you'd find on a little league baseball glove. "Uh..thanks man." Bob and I had never used a poop tube before. Being 'old school' and not having done a wall in several years we were accustomed to the antiquated ethic of using brown paper lunch bags for the business and tossing it from the wall as far as possible. In the early years of wall climbing it would have been poor form to be found wandering around the base of El Cap at 7am in the off chance that you'd get nailed by one of these bags. But times changed, routes got popular, crowded, so that the practice of throwing poop bags (and garbage in general) thankfully and hygienically disappeared. Or so we thought...
We set off on our voyage in a cool morning thunderstorm. Dispensing with the awkward traverse pitches to start we were soon in the clean main dihedral aiding happily away with no thought of free climbing anything except over to the haul bag in search of the pound bag of Peanut M&Ms. Unexpectedly from above Mark (leading the 4th pitch) cried out that he "really had to go...and right now!" So up went the tube and Mark mid-pitch (hanging from slings) did his business in a bag. The rest of us waited more than anxiously at the belay. After all we were right in the fall line and if his aim was even slightly off. Well, we all cowered trying to make ourselves as small as possible, helmets in place. Shortly we start to hear a bit of banging and swearing and finally, "I can't get the *%$^#& thing open!" What??
"I can't get it open, the top is stuck." Our poop tube cap, designed, engineered and manufactured by a guy with graduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University, wouldn't unscrew. It wasn't 'childproof', it was everybody-proof. This was not a great spot to be debating the merits of current climbing ethics so the decision was made to launch the odiferous bag and deal with the tube that evening at our designated bivy spot. Late that afternoon found us taking turns at pounding on the offending cap with everything from a Yo Hammer to the few pitons we carried 'just in case.' Nothing. This thing was fixed tighter than a singlet on Mariah Carey. We were in a quandary but not really stressing over it or giving it much additional thought. After all, Bob and I had this standing tradition of taking garbage bags back to the base of wall routes we had just climbed and filling bag after bag of trash. I don't remember why or how we started it, maybe it just seemed a good idea and positive karma. We were after all eleven for eleven on all our wall attempts so who were we to argue with karma? Wall climbers drop anything and everything, usually by accident and there was always plenty to fill up several bags even in the modern age of 'pack it all out.' We discussed that same plan at the bivy and left it at that. We'd toss bags and head back to the base the day after and clean up what we could find and then some. I don't remember much about the rest of the route except the two assholes climbing the route "in a day" who crawled over my ledge at 2am scaring the crap out of me. The upper pitches were fantastically exposed, great clean aid, and as a bonus you finish on Angels Landing to throngs of cheering tourists and a paved trail back to the road. What could be better?
We arrived at the parking area near the trail head the next afternoon exhausted but quite pleased with ourselves. It went well. Bob had hitched a ride back to the car park and swung back to pick up us and our gear. Out of nowhere an NPS ranger cruiser pulled up partially blocking the exit to the main road. Out jumps a pleasant looking female ranger whose name long ago escapes me. She was chatty, friendly even. Asking us how it went and what route did we do and when we were on it. Small talk. We were friendly and chatted for awhile but as we had an appointment with the local watering hole, we started to excuse ourselves as needing immediate sustenance. Within seconds things got grave. She informed us that we would have to sit tight and wait for her superiors who had a few more questions. Another NPS cruiser pulled up and blocked the other side of the entrance. We didn't have to do anything but look at each other to know what was happening and why. We also realized we'd just given our info to the 'good cop.' It was just curious how they knew? Out of the blue we had three rangers in our face and it was a full on parking lot interrogation. The hot September sun supplied the bright lights, I supplied the cigarette smoke. Same questions but now more pointed; " What route? When were we on it? What were our names? Where were we from?" To make matters worse they'd asked Bob, the driver of our ride, for his ID. Well Bob had just returned from a overland road trip down the Baja Peninsula and had left his wallet in a dusty cantina somewhere south of Las Palmas. No ID. So they radioed his name in to that magical clearing house where they radio all suspicious names into. Back crackles this reply: "We have a Bob Viola wanted for murder in Seattle." It goes deathly silent. Bob is now turning three shades of pale and the three of us are pointing at him shouting "that's the guy, that's the guy, take him away!" Bob is whimpering at this point "but, but, I've never even BEEN to Washington."
Another radio report: "The Bob Viola in question has a large tatoo on his left shoulder." Bob confidently whips off his t-shirt to prove his innocence while the three of us are now rolling on the pavement giggling. But solving a murder wasn't the impetus for this visit from our friends in forestry green. They wanted answers and they were fairly certain they had their man. Another solemn looking ranger (clearly the bad cop) approaches telling us point blank, "we have reports from park visitors of climbers throwing garbage from the very location you have reported to have climbed." We looked shocked. We would never! Dan fished through the haul bag and brought up a super-sized Hefty-brand garbage bag and emptied its contents on the pavement depositing several granola bar wrappers, some crushed minestrone soup cans, can of half eaten peaches, a badly abused People Magazine, crumbled topos, an empty bottle of ruby port and the long emptied pound bag of peanut M&Ms. We were packing...our garbage at least. The rangers carefully examined the contents and satisfied asked us to bag it back up. Done.
"Can we go now?" Undeterred the rangers briefly huddle and the serious one turns to us and asks. "What about...human feces?"
"Your poop, what did you do with it?" Finally, the moment of truth. The four of us stared at each other. We all intuitively knew that getting busted for something like this was a maybe a big deal. Our inquisitors certainly acted like it. Probably a hefty fine, lifetime banishment from the National Park system, jail time...who knew? No one said a word. Instead Dan again fished into the haul bag, brought out the poop tube, and rolled it in the direction of the ranger. He stared at the ranger and giving nothing away with his expression blankly offered "There it is dude, open it up." It was genius. It was Clint Eastwood staring down Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach. Our pair of sevens to their inside straight. They weren't going to be able to open the damn thing, but they didn't know that. The silence was palpable. We could hear the Virgin River behind us, a few birds, a rustle of wind in the cottonwoods, a small murmur from the curious crowd now gathering behind the blockade. Nothing. It seemed like ten minutes but it was probably no more than ten seconds. We stared at them they stared at us, they looked down at the poop tube, looked back at us, back at the tube. They huddled. Finally they turned and "Thanks, but no thanks. You guys can go. We don't take kindly to false reports and we'll want to go check with the reporting party again on this matter." One of us helpfully chimed in that "perhaps it was another party, hope you catch the littering bastards and no worries, just a simple misunderstanding," and BOOM, we were gone in a flash, headed for a now long-overdue margarita and the safety of the park border.
We kept our promise. We were up early the next morning, forged the Virgin River with garbage bags in tow. We picked up a couple of big bags of detritus and hauled it out. We always do and we always had. The route, yeah it was great. Even spectacular. I mean, c'mon, it's Zion. And it certainly gave us all a great campfire story that endures to this day.